Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Ed Davey and Layla Moran: It's déjà vu all over again

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Calder's Sixth Law of Politics holds that all Lib Dem leadership elections are reruns of the Liberal Party leadership contest between David Steel and John Pardoe in 1976.

As I once blogged:
You could argue that the 1976 contest set a pattern for later Liberal and Liberal Democrat leadership elections.

One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement.

So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels.
Not all contests have obeyed my law as clearly, but this time it is spot on. It's clear that Ed Davey is the Steel and Layla Moran is the Pardoe.

For me, Ed is being a bit too much of a Steel for his own good, but I shall not be declaring my support for either candidate until I have seen more of the campaign. I have urged the same course of action on other Lib Dem members.

In case you are curious, you can find all seven of my Laws of Politics in a recent post on this blog.

The often forgotten tale of the Peaks

This video tells the story of British Rail's class 44, 45 and 46 diesel locomotives.

The 45s looked after passenger services on the Midland main line in the years when there was a real possibility that St Pancras would be demolished and the video tell that story too.

Haringey Lib Dems call for Britain's first Indian MP to be celebrated

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Sir Dadabhai Naoroji, Liberal MP for Finsbury Central between 1892 and 1895, was the first Indian and non-white person elected to the House of Commons.

Now Haringey's Liberal Democrat councillors are calling for a park, school or main road in Muswell Hill to be renamed in his honour or for a statue or plaque to be erected to commemorate him.

Cllr Julia Ogiehor, Lib Dem councillor for Muswell Hill, says:
"By remembering that Victorian voters were willing to choose an Indian campaigner against the Empire as their MP, we are remembering that whilst racism has a long history, so too does anti-racism."
The councillors have set up a petition to gather support for their call.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Six of the Best 939

"I have reported on British politics for almost three decades, and have never encountered a senior British politician who lies, cheats and fabricates as habitually or systematically - or with as much inventive relish - as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson." Peter Oborne says we are now in the same family of nations as Putin’s Russia, Modi's India, Sisi’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Jennifer Williams writes on the plight of homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation under lockdown.

Jack Flemming was not impressed by his encounter with Britain's Covid-19 testing system.

"I was playing in a Minor Counties match when one of the opposition - a guy who had just retired after a first-class career - kept asking me if I had any bananas in my bag. I asked what he meant and all his team-mates laughed." In a series of interviews, George Dobell discovers what it has been like to be a black player in English cricket.

Jane Dunford hopes the Slow Ways network will change walking in Britain.

Jem Aswad watches a new documentary on the death of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones.

Leicester schools closed for at least two weeks

Matt Hancock has just made a Commons statement announcing measures to combat the spike in Covid-19 infections detected in Leicester.

Non-essential shops will close again for at least the next fortnight and school will be closed again, except for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.

The measures cover not just the city of Leicester but also surrounding settlements including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Should we publish daily totals of the number of nominations Lib Dem leadership candidates have amassed?

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What do the Liberal Democrats need from the current leadership election?

I’d say it’s, above all, a good debate about the future of the party between candidates who offer clear and contrasting visions for it. We also need to see how those candidates perform in debate and when faced with difficult questions.

Well, we have two candidates with contrasting visions, but will we have the debate? At present the party is encouraging people to nominate one of the candidates by publishing running totals every afternoon.

So, of course, the two camps are doing all they can to encourage Lib Dem members to nominate their candidate. As both are a long way past the 200 nominations they need, this seems to me unfortunate.

Because it means the campaign will open with a significant percentage of the electorate already having committed themselves. Of course people can change their minds, but committing yourself in this way makes it less likely that you will do so.

Which leaves the danger that the campaign will become more about cheering your candidate on and less about the future of the party.

That may sound too idealistic, but we need to do some hard thinking because it's by no means guaranteed that this party has a future.

But then I always seem to be disappointed by our leadership elections.

Before the last contest (which turned out to be a coronation) I wrote a post under the title Forget “the Lib Dem family”: Let’shave proper leadership elections itemising how previous contests, from John Pardoe’s wig to Tim Farron’s religion, had failed to live up to my hopes and concluding:

It looks to me as though we Lib Dems are too scared of rocking the boat to have really informative leadership elections.

Some like to talk of the “Lib Dem family,” but in my experience happy families are those that can have lively discussions, even rows, and make their peace afterwards.

We Lib Dems, by contrast, resemble an unhappy family where everyone is sat around the dining table on their best behaviour and terrified of saying the wrong thing.

Bizarre report of 50 people with suitcases in Ardingly

The judges were unanimous: today's Headline of the Day Award goes to The Argus.

In addition, they are well aware that the Great Central went nowhere near Ardingly, but they liked this photo.

Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I

A woman singer-songwriter who has enjoyed a 40-year career? That's unusual. 

 A Black British woman singer-songwriter who has enjoyed a 40-year career? That must be unique. 

 Joan Armatrading is one of those artists who has been there for as long as I have been interested in music. And for that reason it is easy to forget what an unusual career she has had.
I stand by what I wrote when I chose her Willow, except that she has now enjoyed a 50-year career. 

Me Myself I was a single taker from her 1980 LP of the same name.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Local lockdown for Leicester?

Robert Peston suggests that the first local Covid-19 lockdown could be imposed within days and that it may well be in Leicester.
He notes that there has been a surge in cases there, with 658 reported in the fortnight to 16 June.

Peston writes:
New data on the prevalence of the virus in the area has been delivered to Leicester's mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, according to the LeicesterLive website, and he said his officials were analysing the data over the weekend. 
I am told that the data does not yet show that a full lockdown is required. 
A senior official said: ‘It would need to be driven by the data and we’re not at that stage right now. We are very actively managing [this] and analysing it at the moment. Time will tell.’
Outbreaks of Vovid-19 have been reported at the Samworth Bros sandwich factory in the city and at a Sainsbury's superstore. Five Leicester schools have been closed because of the virus..

Tory MP for Harborough blocks local Labour Party on Twitter

The Harborough Labour Twitter accounts says it has been blocked by Neil O'Brien MP.

You may say nothing that happens on Twitter matters very much, but I think this is a shame.

Democratically elected politicians should be prepared to talk to people from other parties.

Dracula’s links to Aberdeenshire strengthened after church renovation discovery

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The Scotsman wins out Headline of the Day Award.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Six of the Best 938

Philippe Sands sees the British government still defending our colonial legacy: "Five decades on, many former residents of the Chagos Archipelago still wished to go home, supported by Mauritius, many other African countries, and much of the world besides. This was one of the purposes of the resolution before the General Assembly—and it was, of course, precisely such a matter as the United Nations was created to address."

"If you use a piece of data as a target or as a box that must be ticked, then the data will become inaccurate. That's Goodhart's Law." David Boyle introduces us to an important concept.

Boak and Bailey give their initial thoughts on the guidance for reopening pubs.

Flickering Lamps watches airships over London - in war and peace.

"Tony Benn, who was a cousin, spoke of her as a genial companion and produced a photo for a BBC documentary of the two of them sitting in deck chairs on a beach. He said she was exactly the same on screen and off." Jack Buckley says Margaret Rutherford was a gift from the gods.

Backwatersman shares my affection for Vic Marks: "His estimate of his Test career may be accurate rather than merely self-deprecating, but his one-day bowling (which he rather underplays) entitled him to respect (both his average and economy rates were superior to his England contemporaries Emburey, Miller and Hemmings)."

Article 39 wins right to challenge reduction in protection of children in care

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
The High Court has granted the children’s rights charity Article 39 a judicial review of the Department for Education’s removal and dilution of legal protections for children in care.

These changes were announced overnight in April with the Covid-19 pandemic given as the reason, yet DfE has been trying to bring in some of these changes for several years.

Given the seriousness of the changes and the vulnerability of the affected children, Article 39 asked the court for the case to be expedited. This was also agreed by the court, and the  hearing will take place on 27 and 28 July.

Carolyne Willow, the charity's director, told the Independent:
"We know from past tragedies that too often children’s suffering goes hidden until it is too late and the harm has been done.

"Before the pandemic, at least half of local authorities were struggling to meet their statutory children’s social care duties – as judged by Ofsted – and councils have been saying for years that they are desperate for funds.

"Ministers should have been focused on ensuring local authorities had the financial support they needed to keep children in care safe and protected, rather than dismantling safeguards."
One requirement lifted – for a six-monthly review of a child’s care – dates from the death of 12-year-old Dennis O'Neill at a farm in Shropshire in 1945.

Boris Johnson offers a devastating analysis of Boris Johnson


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Michael Mullaney on fighting for a Liberal Midlands

In this edition of the Lib Dem Podcast Leicestershire's own Michael Mullaney talks about the new group Lib Dems for the Heart of England. It has been set up to revive the party's fortunes in the Midlands.

You can read more from Michael on the group and the battle to revive the party beyond the South of England in his guest post on this blog.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

London's hidden hamlet of Snaresbrook

It's high time we had another walk with John Rogers. He describes it on YouTube like this:
A walk through the lost Hamlet of Snaresbrook on the edge of Epping Forest, now a part of the parish of Wanstead in the London Borough of Redbridge. We cross Leyton Flats to the Eagle Pond and look at the Eagle Pub. Here we see a section of the Sayers Brook or Sayes Brook that gives Snaresbrook its name. We also see Snaresbrook Crown Court which was built in 1841 as the Infant Orphan Asylum. 
From here we walk along Woodford Road to look at the modernist wonder of Hermitage Court before walking down Eagle Lane to Falcon Close. I ponder upon the idea of Hauntology, a term first used by Jacques Derrida but popularised by Mark Fisher particularly in relation to music culture. Fisher spoke of "the failure of the 21st Century to really arrive" and how in the 21st Century "culture floating free from time" .  I wonder whether the modernist architecture of Hermitage Court is another example of a "lost future". 
From Falcon Way we look at the Merchant Seaman's Orphan Asylum on Hermon Hill built in 1861, then walk down Cranbourne Avenue to Elmcroft Avenue where we enter the Roding Valley Park. We explore the wonderful parkland beside the North Circular Road and River Roding as far as Charlie Brown's Roundabout and then turn up Chigwell Road to Hermon Hill. Our walk ends at Holy Trinity Church, South Woodford. 
Psychogeography keeps you fit.

Sherlock Holmes on the dangers of the countryside

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I used to run a second blog called Serendib, which I jotted down striking passages from books I was reading.

Maybe I didn't read enough books, because the blog did not last.

But if I were still running it I would have added this passage from Conan Doyle's story The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.
"Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

"Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"

"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

"You horrify me!"

"But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A snapshot of forgotten post-war railway history

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Browsing railway photographs on GettyImages, as you do, I came across this. Taken at Bristol Temple Meads in May 1952, it shows a locomotive with a remarkable history.

British Rail 18100 was a prototype gas turbine-electric locomotive commissioned by the Great Western Railway in the 1940s but not delivered until 1951. It spent its working life hauling express passenger services on BR's Western Region.

In 1958 it was withdrawn from service to be converted into an electric locomotive, numbered E1000 (E2001 from 1959), and was then used for testing and staff training in connection with the electrification of the West Coast main line.

It was put into store at the end of 1961, but lasted until November 1972 when it was cut up for scrap.

Six of the Best 937

Nick Barlow looks at the Liberal Democrats and 'equidistance': "The Liberal Democrats of 2020 are in the same position with regard to the election of 2024 (or whenever) and I can’t foresee a situation in which you could credibly claim the Tories of Johnson (or his successor) and Starmer’s Labour are two sides of the same coin."

"For what, in the end, does a social safety net do? It allows us greater control and agency over our lives. It allows us to stay home and take care of our health, rather than go to work in a crowded factory. It allows us to obtain economic freedom from a violent marriage. In doing all these things, it allows human diversity to flourish." Jonathan Cohen says "individual freedom vs public health" is a false dilemma in the Covid-19 era.

Lenore Skenazy discusses the importance of play, working through fears, and raising independent kids with the psychologist Peter Gray in the first Supervision Not Required podcast.

"Of all those who sing and have sung the ancient Cotswold tracks, however, no voice is more poignant than the pastoral composer and poet, Ivor Gurney." Anne Louise Avery takes to the Cotswold Way.

"Despite the cumulative formative hours spent muttering and groaning alongside my brothers and sisters, on pavements outside countless cold, dusty and child-unfriendly secondhand bookshops; often peering in through uncleaned windows in forlorn hope of catching sight of Mum or Dad beating a retreat, having at last exhausted their capacity for browsing,  I love second-hand bookshops." Richly Evocative on being the child of two secondhand book dealers.

Jarvis Cocker talks about his new project, why prehistoric cave dwellers were the world's first ravers, and why he's uncomfortable being called a 'National Treasure'.

Wera Hobhouse drops out of Lib Dem leadership race and backs Layla Moran

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Stephen Bush writes on the New Statesman site:
Wera Hobhouse has ended her campaign for the Liberal Democrat leadership and has thrown her weight behind Layla Moran, cementing the Oxford West and Abingdon MP’s status as the candidate to beat.

In a statement to her supporters, the Bath MP said that “we must accept that we are no longer the best vehicle” to deliver her aims of “pulling our party firmly to the centre-left, rebuilding our local government base, securing a progressive alliance, and moving effort and resources to our regions”.

In a coded rebuke to Ed Davey, the party’s deputy leader, MP for Kingston, and Moran’s sole rival for the leadership, Hobhouse warned against becoming a "London-centric" party. Moran described herself as "delighted" to have received Hobhouse’s endorsement.
I am not sure those who fear a London-centric party will see an Oxford-based leader as a huge bonus. In recent days I have seen people noting that the launch of Layla's Build Back Better document featured speakers from London, Oxford and Cambridge - and nowhere else.

And I suspect Wera's campaign was damaged by a rather less coded rebuke to Ed Davey the other day.

Still, this must be a boost for Layla even if it is odd for a party that worships the single transferable vote to end up with just two candidates.

Me? I voted for Ed last time but am definitely Layla curious. She is the Pardoe in this contest, after all.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames and Severn Canal

The most substantial engineering work on the Thames and Severn Canal was Sapperton Tunnel, which is 2.17 miles (3.49km) in length.

This video examines the tunnel and its rather perilous remains. The unfenced shafts remind me of the remains of the lead mining industry in Shropshire when I first explored them more than 30 years ago.

Cotswold Canals in Pictures has an informative page on the tunnel, which says the last commercial traffic to use the tunnel did so in May 1911.

It also says:
The restoration of Sapperton Tunnel is entirely feasible from an engineering standpoint. As might be expected though, this will be the most complex and expensive single element of the Thames and Severn Canal restoration.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

Do you want to have your say on the Liberal Democrat leadership election or the future of the party?

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

If you would like to write a guest post for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

The Thirsk MP killed by a turnip who took the seat from a man who thought he was a bird

The Northern Echo wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Witchfinder General was partly set in Market Harborough

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The budget for Michael Reeves 1968 film did not run to showing the Battle of Naseby, but Witchfinder General does include a scene set immediately after the battle where the hero Richard Marshall meets Patrick Wymark's Oliver Cromwell.

And where was Cromwell staying immediately after the battle? At the Bell Inn, Market Harborough

It used to occupy the corner where the Coventry Road leaves The Square.

Rickie Lee Jones: Chuck E.'s in Love

A Los Angeles Times article last year said of Rickie Lee Jones:
Forty years ago, in the spring of 1979, her self-titled debut made a splash: a best new artist Grammy along with a handful of other nominations, No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and top 10 on the Hot 100 for the single "Chuck E.’s in Love," and the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
"Pirates," the 1981 follow-up, did well too (both were reissued on vinyl this year). But Jones followed her ear and wound up in and out of critical and market favor as she chased new information: electronic experiments, pop and jazz covers, spiritual folk, building an eclectic catalog that has, over 20-odd albums and 40 years, never failed to keep people guessing.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Shropshire signpost

You will find this opposite what used to be the post office at Shelve on the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle road.

Friday, June 19, 2020

George Sanders and John Cleese: The Best House in London

It had a script by Denis Norden and a remarkable cast - in this brief clip you see George Sanders with John Cleese and David Hemmings with Willie Rushton - but the critics were not kind to The Best House in London, Roger Ebert gave it one star.

According to Hemmings' memoirs he offered to play both lead roles so he could cross two films off his contractual obligation to MGM.

Anyway, this clip is fun, not least because of those unexpected juxtapositions. It may be worth pointing out that The Best House in London appeared the year after Carry On Up the Khyber.

Six of the Best 936

"It’s good to see people in the Liberal Democrats actually wanting to have discussions about ideas and approaches to politics and acknowledging that we need to have this sort of debate." Nick Barlow offers his first thoughts on Build Back Better.

James Gilmour calls for the reunification of the Social Democratic and Liberal traditions in British politics.

Mary Reid has been thinking about the way she was taught history: "I was denied any understanding of the importance of prime sources, or of historical method, and I didn’t appreciate that records were always created by the literate elite."

"The most radical aspects of Rousseau’s programme - and the most profound philosophical questions that it addresses about the nature of human freedom and happiness - have largely been excluded from the practical business of education." Rousseau’s child-centred ideals are now commonplace but, says James Brooke-Smith, his truly radical vision of educational freedom still eludes us.

Zehra Zaidi tells a story of interracial love in 18th-century Wales.

"As with declaring half an hour prior to the close of play, promoting a nightwatchman provokes another game within a game with subplots and multi-layered nuances." Yahoo over Cow Corner celebrates the intricacies of multi-day cricket.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Can cats help tackle loneliness?

A new report from the all-party parliamentary group on cats calls for more research into the role that cat ownership can play in combating loneliness.

It makes these recommendations:
  • a pilot of cat ownership and interaction within a social prescribing context
  • improvements to the evidence base
  • enabling renters to own or foster a cat more easily
  • provision of information and advice about responsible cat ownership and its benefits
  • cats to be incorporated into health assessments and personalised care plans
All good ideas, but you have to choose the right cat. I have known some that would do absolutely nothing for your self-esteem.

Layla Moran publishes Build Back Better

The Guardian is getting excited about the new Liberal Democrat publication Build Back Better:
The Liberal Democrats could take a decisive shift to the centre left, shedding the final legacies from the party’s period in coalition, under a new review of policy ideas overseen by leadership hopeful Layla Moran.

A new booklet, Build Back Better, edited by the MP, is billed as a modern equivalent to the Orange Book, a 2004 collection of essays from Lib Dem figures – including the former leaders Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, and former cabinet minister David Laws – which pushed the party towards a centre-right, markets-based stance.

In contrast, Build Back Better, with contributions from more than 40 Lib Dem MPs, members and supporters, includes essays advocating ideas such as a universal basic income, free broadband, and commandeering private health resources to clear a backlog of NHS operations caused by coronavirus.

I always suspect those who attribute such influence to the Orange Book have not read it.

Still its good to see leading members of the party trying to get to grips with the problems we face today and good to see the Guardian covering us.

You can download Build Back Better from Layla Moran's website.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Rails to Wick and Thurso in 1964

Some lovely footage of the line north from Dingwall to Wick and Thurso in 1964.

And I commend the reopening of Salzcraggie station to the excellent Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) as a vote-winning campaign.

Note the post bus at Lairg. An article on Messy Nessy tells you about this lost means of rural transport.

So farewell then Willie Thorne

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Goodbye to a great Leicester sportsman. 

In the days when Leicester Chess Club met at the Willie Thorne Snooker Centre, which was housed in the old city council offices in Charles Street, it had by far the best premises in the county league.

I am so old I remember when Willie Thorne had hair, was obviously hugely talented but could not win a frame on television.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A tour of Pre-Roman Leicester and Leicestershire

In the second of his Hidden Histories videos Jim Butler shows us that Leicester was an important town - a tribal capital and cultural hub - long before a the Romans conquered Britain,

He explores Iron Age Leicester and the surrounding county to understand why it was such an important target for the Roman invaders.

Layla Moran calls for fund to protect UK music venues

Layla Moran has called on Boris Johnson to establish a cultural protection fund to secure the future of music venues threatened by the economic impact of Covid-19, reports the New Musical Express.

The NME says more than 400 grassroots music venues in the UK are at imminent risk of closing for good as a consequence of the ongoing health crisis. This is despite a campaign from the Music Venue Trust which has saved cultural 140 spaces so far.

Layla told the NME:

"We need to have recognition that arts in this country is one of our most important exports, it binds us together as a country but we take it for granted. It needs money and support and unless we’re really careful, we’re going to lose venues and it won’t just be the small guys."

Six of the Best 935

A podcast from Matthew d'Ancona reveals how Boris Johnson’s brush with death exposed a lethal amateurism at the heart of government.

"There is a long tradition of 'crowd psychology', Professor Reicher said, which 'sees the group as problematic', as something that “undermines us at a cognitive and moral level." Times Higher Education talks to Stephen Reicher, who says psychology can help policymakers tap wisdom of crowds during times of crisis.

And where does this fear of the mob come from? David Boyle suggests it has its roots in classical education.

Emily Marchant, Charlotte Todd and Sinead Brophy ask why outdoor learning isn't used more by schools when it has such benefits children and teachers.

"In 1914 a very concerned father sent a letter to the school teaching his young child. The complaint? He was concerned that 'sexual instruction' had been given to his 11-year-old daughter by Miss Outram, Headmistress of the Girls Department at Dronfield School, near Sheffield." Vicky Iglikowski-Broad on a cast that shows a fear of female empowerment, and illustrates the slowly changing world girls were growing up in.

Peter Webster visits a memorial to Protestant martyrs above Lewes.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Old Lighthouse, Lundy Island

Taken at New Year in 2002 or thereabouts.

Marriott Edgar on the continuing importance of Magna Carta

It being the 805th anniversary of its signing, there has been much discussion of Magna Carta on social media today.

This always upsets historians and legal scholars.

For my money, the best summation of Magna Carta's continuing importance to us comes in this verse from Marriott Edgar

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Wallace Lawler arrives at Westminster

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Wallace Lawler's victory in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election of 1969, as I blogged last month, is the Liberal victory no one talks about.

That is because there seems to have been a racist element to his campaigning. He did give one of my maths teachers a good hoofing though.

Anyway, this photograph shows him arriving at Westminster as a newly elected MP, along with his wife and one of his daughters.

Calls for Sir Peter Soulsby to resign as Leicester's mayor

There have been calls for Sir Peter Soulsby to resign as Leicester's mayor after he apparently breached coronavirus rules by making visits to his partner’s house during lockdown.

The Leicester Mayor has been photographed visiting his partner’s house in the evenings by her neighbours.

Sir Peter and his partner live separately - him in the city, and her in the village of Groby some five miles away.

A neighbour told the Mercury:

"He’s been coming three or four nights a week throughout lockdown.

"He wears a baseball cap pulled down and tries to keep a low profile but people know who he is and that he is our neighbour’s partner.

"We have all seen him telling everyone about the importance of sticking to the lockdown rules and he’s not been doing it himself."

It does seem a bit Dominic Cummings.

There now follows a joke that requires knowledge of Leicestershire pronunciation and pop history:

The Mindbenders comment: "Wouldn't you agree, baby you and me got a Groby kind of love?"

The Divine Comedy: Becoming More Like Alfie

Neil Hannon told The Irish Times in 1996 that Becoming More Like Alfie is an "ironical attack" on the kind of sexism by another name laddishness evident in British working class culture: 

"I watched Alfie a long time ago and thought, 'what a horrible character', as in the way he was referring to women as 'it's a nice little thing', a complete dehumanising of the opposite sex. 

"But when I saw it again recently, I saw a lot of my own tendencies in it - which sparked the song. It is also a dig at the laddishness in Britpop at the moment. A lot of what comes out of the Gallagher twins' mouths, for example, is absolutely obscene. But many critics missed the irony and the fact that I'm criticising that kind of behaviour, in myself as much as in others."

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Zombies' She's Not There was recorded 56 years ago today

Rod Argent cannot decide whether this was the second or third song he ever wrote.

Six of the Best 934

Helen Belcher writes an open letter to J.K. Rowling: "Trans women come under huge pressure to conform to gender stereotypes – driven by a fear of what might happen if we don’t.

So does Sophia Grace, who reckons she is the only professor of philosophy in the UK who is also transgender.

"Yes, in 1831 William did speak in the Commons in favour of compensation for slave owners. It was his first speech in the Commons and he was still in thrall to his father. By 1850, he was a changed man and in Parliament he described slavery as 'by far the foulest crime that taints the history of mankind in any Christian or pagan country.' Peter Francis and Charlie Gladstone defend the Grand Old Man's reputation.

Former England batsman Michael Carberry writes for the Daily Mail about the racism he suffered in cricket.

Martin George says bird watching is good for our mental health. "The modern world creates an unhappy, unhealthy environment for us of largely sedentary lifestyles; invisible threats such as financial worries; travel delays and looming meetings; working in an open plan office with large teams and our backs exposed." 

"Mara Keisling, now one of the nation’s most prominent transgender rights activists, was then an 11-year-old boy living in central Pennsylvania. And when she heard the song on the radio, she suddenly felt less alone in the world." Corky Siemaszko marks the 50th anniversary of The Kinks' Lola.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

John Guthrie: The boy who stole the 'Girl Jean'

This newsreel shows the end of an incident in which a 14-year-old called John Guthrie piloted a large fishing boat over the North Sea.

A 2015 article from the Courier tells the story:

The missing Arbroath High pupil was “the boy” in the “mystery of the Girl and the boy” that dominated news headlines across the globe.

Despite a general election going on at the time, on every street corner and in every house, shop and office in Arbroath in January 1950 the talk was of the boy and the Girl - the Girl Jean, a two-year-old trawler belonging to Joseph Cargill.

She also went missing and the people of Arbroath believed the boy and the Girl were together, as the teenager was known to have sea fever badly.

Their discovery, says the paper, ended a huge search involving fishing communities, the Royal Navy, the RAF, coastguards and the Norwegian authorities.

Sadly, things did not end as happily as the newsreel imagined:

The incident brought John a stiff penalty as he was sent to an approved school for three-and-a-half years after an appearance at a juvenile court.

His mistake also cost him any chance of the career at sea he so longed for.

The 'Girl Pat' mentioned at start turns out to have her own Wikipedia entry:

Girl Pat was a small fishing trawler, based at the Lincolnshire port of Grimsby, that in 1936 was the subject of a media sensation when its captain took it on an unauthorised transatlantic voyage.

Calder's Seventh Law of Politics

This holds that the more noise someone makes about leaving the Liberal Democrats, the more likely they are to rejoin the party.

My first six Laws hold:
  1. If all parties are united in support of a measure, it will turn out to be a disaster.
  2. The more power the state takes to itself, the more arbitrarily that power will be exercised.
  3. When politicians do something which they think is very clever, it will eventually turn out to have been very stupid.
  4. The more extreme a person's views, the more certain they will be that the majority of voters share them.
  5. No argument that involves expressing indignation on behalf of a third party is to be trusted.
  6. All Liberal Democrat leadership elections are reruns of Steel vs Pardoe.

Two quotations in defence of Baden Powell

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This is an extract from a blog post - The generation gap and reinventing bob-a-job week - that I wrote back in 2011.

I have never bought the idea that Scouting is a sinister, right-wing movement. That view misses the essential strangeness of Scouting.

This is brought out in this passage from Tony Gould's Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes from 1983:

Colin always defended the scouts against leftish accusations of incipient fascism and the like. How could be not be loyal when the "prophetic book" was none other than Cousin Roddy's Kim?

He describes the ideology of the movement as "the weirdest blend of ritual, non-sectarian religiosity, nature and beast worship, and a passion for peoples (Red Indian, Australian aborigines, African tribesmen) whom Christian imperialism had tried for centuries to destroy."

He makes a distinction between militarism - useless to deny, he argues, what it is for which the scout should chiefly "be prepared" - and the para-militarism of the Boys' Brigade. The true military heir to Baden Powell (he writes in 1961) is Dayan. Fascist and Communist countries alike usually end up suppressing the scouts.

MacInnes, the author of Absolute Beginners, is an impeccably left-wing figure, even if (as this passage hints) he was a kinsman of Rudyard Kipling, who gave the Scouting movement its mythology.

And even if you think Baden Powell would have liked, at least in certain moods, to have founded a paramilitary movement, it didn’t turn out like that. 

Here are Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy writing in their Goodnight Campers! The History of the British Holiday Camp in 1986:

When Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was published in serial form groups of boys all over the country set up their own groups before any central organisation had been formed. 

Leslie Paul recalls how “With an astonishing perception they leapt at Scouting as at something for which they had been waiting, divining that this was a movement which took the side of the natural inquisitive, adventuring boy against the repressive schoolmaster, the moralising parson and the coddling parent.
Before the leaders knew what was happening groups were springing up spontaneously and everywhere bands of boys, with bare knees, and armed with broomsticks, began foraging through the countryside.

It seems Baden-Powell was not so much scouting for boys as chasing after them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

I dreamt about you last night - fell out of bed twice!

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In the latest London Review of Books podcast Susan Pedersen talks to Joanna Biggs about Shelagh Delaney and her 1958 play A Taste of Honey.

Delaney was a female, working-class dramatist. She put Black, female and working-class characters into her plays not as personifications of social problems but as people in their own right.

She is often lumped in with the Angry Young Men, but there was little that was feminist about that movement.

Six of the Best 933

"The media would have us believe that Rishi Sunak is having a good crisis. But this is because it focuses far too much upon presentation and not enough upon policy. The standards for Tory politicians have fallen so low that being able to read a speech fluently suffices to make one a future PM." Chris Dillow considers the origins of the Conservatives' policy disaster on Covid-19 and the economy.

Natalie Bennett on the privatisation of care homes for older people has been a disaster.

"In Russia, it is a deceitful, neurotic, and bullying approach to history. In China, it is the same story but over geography." Ed Lucas argues the regimes in both countries are expending huge amounts of political capital on unnecessary fights.

Margaret Thatcher killed the UK's superfast broadband before it even existed, as Jay McGregor reveals.

"Ravilious ... was a strong opponent of fascism, as one might expect from his light and playful sensibility. He raised money for the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, and apparently had to be dissuaded by friends from enlisting in the British Army as a private soldier when war broke out." Niall Gooch says Eric Ravilious depicted 'Deep England' but unsullied by any kind of dubious politics.

Mary Reid recalls the pains and pleasures of living near a zoo.

GUEST POST A lifetime among the Liberals

Paddy Briggs
looks back over a lifetime's political involvement and forwards to the next election.

I was 13 and for the first time I started to take an interest in politics. It was JFK wot did it. That summer of 1960 a man born in the same century as me was campaigning to be President of the United States. He was beautiful as was his wife. He wasn't Harold Macmillan or Ike or de Gaulle. He had charisma (though I don't think I knew that word at the time). He won!
In 1962 I got a bit excited again. Now Eric Lubbock wasn’t JFK but he made me momentarily famous at my boarding school. You see I lived in Orpington which hitherto had only been famous for its chickens. I decided to be a Liberal when he won. Of course I did.
As a student in the late 1960s there were plenty of good causes for liberals to care about. The old men defended the deadly nonsense of Vietnam. I didn't. They defended even the racial obscenity of Apartheid. I didn't. 
Surely the Liberal day had dawned ? But what did that mean ? Well it wasn’t Socialist (Good). Or Conservative (even better). So I knew what it wasn't – but what actually was it? That was more difficult.
The real dawn of the liberalism I believed in wasn't to come until the 1980s. Like Charles Kennedy and a few other good men and true I joined the SDP. Social Democracy and Liberalism. Perfect match. The SDP did well actually but the electoral system killed us. Charlie survived and a few others. I was mortified.
The Liberal Democrats were a decent post-SDP refuge and they did pretty well. Mainly as a home for those of the Centre/Left who lived in constituencies where Labour was nowhere and the Tories weren't that popular. Including mine – Twickenham. Vince was an old colleague of mine in Shell and a kindred spirit. Easy call. 
I liked the Coalition and thought the love-in in the Rose Garden was fine. My wife told me it was a public schoolboy alliance. She was certainly right but it suited me. But Nick didn't use his power as wisely as he could have. 2015 was a disaster. Even Vince lost. 2016 was the beginning of the end. The hideous referendum. Trump. Liberalism and pro Europeanism (my watchwords) became dirty words. 
So what now? Well first and foremost there’s Keir Starmer. He must be a man that the Libs can do business with. Surely to goodness. The policy is staring us in the face. Labour and the Lib Dems have much in common. An electoral alliance please. Labour to stand down in Lib Dem constituencies and in Tory constituencies where the LD’s are running second. The Lib Dems to do the same. Don't stand in Tory Conservative/Labour marginals.

You can follow Paddy Briggs on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

A tour of Leicester's Roman and Medieval defensive walls

This is the first video in Jim Butler's Hidden Histories series on Leicester.

Call for more trains north of Corby

The Northamptonshire Telegraph has a report on a campaign for better rail services from Corby to Derby, Melton and Oakham.

It quotes David Fursdon from the Corby Rail Users Group:

"We have the infrastructure in place, track and signalling, we just need the political will and of course rolling stock to get this to happen.

"We have a Derby return service once a day and the Pie Train to Melton Mowbray and back but there's no reason why we shouldn't a better, more frequent service from Corby.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Big cats in High Leicestershire and Rutland

Big Cat Conversations is a podcast devoted to encounters with big cats in Britain.

One edition interviews two people who say they have seen the animals in High Leicestershire and Rutland.

I am struck by the claim that so many large black cats have been seen around Ketton cement works that on its open day the owners place figures of black cats around the site for children to find.

Tory councillor who opposed any change to Bristol statue had a golliwog mascot

One of the suggestions for making the Bristol statue of Edward Colston more acceptable was to add a second plaque that spelt out his role in the Atlantic slave trade.

Even this was too much for one Conservative councillor, according to a 2018 report on Bristol Live:

Cllr Richard Eddy said someone taking the law into the own hands and ‘unilaterally removing’ the plaque, which recognises Colston’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, ‘might be justified’.

The website went on to quote him:

"This pathetic bid to mount a secondary revisionist plaque on Colston's Statue is historically-illiterate and a further stunt to try to reinvent Bristol's history..

"If it goes through, it will be a further slap-in-the-face for true Bristolians and our city's history delivered by ignorant, left-wing incomers."

If this is how a leading Tory met such a reasonable suggestion, it's easy to understand why people decided to take the matter in to their own hands.

You can see Cllr Eddy and his golliwog mascot in the Bristol Live report.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

Do you want to have your say about the Liberal Democrat leadership election or the future of the party?

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

If you would like to write a guest post for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The foreskin of the fifth Earl of Roseberry

I am loath to contradict Lord Bonkers (not least because my rent falls due on Lady Day), but I have never understood why he is so certain that Tim Farron wants to rip the pews out of St Asquith's. Nor am I convinced that King Solomon is the source of that aperçu.

Perhaps it is just as well that today's entry brings to a close our latest week at Bonkers Hall.


Though St Asquith’s is closed for the duration, I like to keep an eye on the old place if only to ensure that the Revd Hughes’s curate Farron has not had the pews ripped out preparatory to making us all kiss one another and sing "Shine, Jesus, Shine."

All is well, however, and I wander among the familiar fixtures and fittings: the Laws of Cricket embroidered on to wall hangings by the Excellent Women of the parish; the stained glass window depicting the bright Seraphim in burning row bearing Mark Bonham-Carter to Westminster that I commissioned to celebrate his victory in the Great Torrington by-election; the sacristy that houses the John Morley’s kneecap and the foreskin of the fifth Earl of Roseberry. Shall we ever return to normal life? 

I shall leave you with the words of King Solomon, whom most authorities consider to be up there with the Wise Woman of Wing: "This too shall pass."

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Six of the Best 932

"On 25 April 2020, The Spectator, located in London’s Old Queen Street, just around the corner from CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) in Matthew Parker Street carried a column by its commissioning editor, one Mary Wakefield, wife of Dominic Cummings. In it, she told the touching story of her family’s brush with the deadly coronavirus – save for one now-glaring omission: not even the slightest hint of their now infamous mercy-dash to the North East." Tim Bale examines Cummings, Covid-19 and the British Establishment.

Calum Macleod argues that land reform is central to a green economic recovery in Scotland.

Richard Bentall points out that the effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy has never been proved in a randomised controlled trial.

"Bentham ... argued that consensual sex between men should be decriminalised, on the grounds that the law should only prohibit and punish practices that caused harm overall (and not always then), but that there was no harm in consensual sexual activity. " Philip Schofield (no, not that one) looks at the work of Jeremy Bentham, the 18th-century republican, radical, feminist and gay rights advocate.

Virginia Morell says urban foxes may be domesticating themselves all around us.

"There is no room even for the little box adverts that sometimes provided an inadvertent commentary on the text, such as one offering to cure your inferiority complex next to England’s record against Australia." Backwatersman on the evolution and pleasures of the Playfair Cricket Annual.